Sunday, March 31, 2013

I hate being sick

Sick teacher sucks.

Nothing like having a nice expectation of a class that is a positive part of the day shattered when the teacher looks like a cross between a beaten dog and a Studio 54 groupie.

Allow me to explain the analogies. 

Being a teacher means that every moment of every classroom second is being “on.”  The stage is lit, the cameras are rolling, and the high octane teaching is rolling for the 55 minutes until that bell says that they move on.  When teacher is sick, teacher’s energy suffers big time.  Teacher doesn’t fly into the classroom with vigor.  Teacher doesn’t bring all the energy expected.  So teacher seems like he’s cashing it in when what teacher is really doing is trying to make it through the day.  And people outside of the classroom don’t understand that high energy is a great way to make up for teaching mistakes.  Have a bad transition?  High energy makes up for it.  Not quite prepared as I need to be?  High energy makes up for it.  The unexpected?  High energy makes up for it! 

Then there’s the sniffling.  Thursday and Friday sounded something like a bad 1970’s Hollywood party.

“Nice to see you *sniffle* ladies and gentlemen!”

*sniffle*

“How *sniffle* are we doing *sniffle* today?”

Mr. Brown, you got a cold?”

What *sniffle* makes you *sniffle* say that?”

*AHHHHHH CHOOOO!*

Yeah.  For eight hours.  That. 

So why don’t I just stay home?

First, I love teaching and once it becomes a part of who you are, you want to be there.  It’s natural.

Second, absences and substitutes make life much, much, MUCH more difficult for me.  Many of our local subs don’t  follow the lesson plans left for them and some are downright bizarre.  While at a basketball game last December a student sent me a text picture of my sub doing yoga during class; reading a book while stretching his leg to the top of my filing cabinet.  The kids got a kick out of it (and were able to complete the work anyway) but it frustrated the hell out of me.

So it’s suck-it-up time in academia.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chicago Public Schools flips Blooms and models Iranian government censorship

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Nice job of engagement by Chicago Public Schools. 

In an effort to connect more with their conservative roots, the city of Chicago has decided that Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis should be removed from all 7th-10th grade classrooms.  If you have every read Persepolis you’ll find this story a tad bit ironic as the story is about a young Iranian girl’s journey through the Islamic Revolution and the modern Iranian state.  It’s a fantastic graphic novel that would be an excellent addition to any study on Iran. 

By the way, the ban was actually district-wide and at all levels at one point.

 

  Nice to see that Chicago Public Schools is making sure something as vile as The Anarchists’ Cookbook Persepolis isn’t corrupting the minds of our youth.  God forbid they learn about history, comparative societies, censorship, class structures, foreign nations, war, childhood, teenage rebellion, coming-of-age, and how a good story should be written. 

But wait a minute, wait a minute….Chicago Public Schools dialed back the ban and just made it 7th-10th grade, because we all know that those populations can’t handle serious conversations.  Oh, and wait another minute.  Looks like a caveat has been tacked on. 

Chicago Public Schools’ spokeswoman says books removed from classrooms this week will be returned after teachers receive training “to assist them in putting the content of this book into context for students, so they have a grade-appropriate understanding of these graphic images and language.”

That’s so polite of politicians in Chicago to not only totally undermine the conversations that the book could bring to the dinner table but to also make sure that educational professionals have total competency about presenting said materials to the youth of America.  Or to put it more bluntly…

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

I’m always on the band wagon for getting rid of those teachers that disgrace the profession.  I’m driving the bandwagon that demands to get rid of institutional leadership that is a disgrace to the profession.  And when the Chicago Public Schools had a chance to say “Meh, we messed up” they backed into a bigger puddle when they discredited teachers with being able to make decisions about, you know, teaching.  I wonder how Chicago students are reacting to it.   

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Cool!

For the record my Advanced Placement Comparative Politics students read Persepolis.   We study the Iranian government and nothing is better than a good story about Iranian society post-Revolution.  I would highly recommend that you read it as well. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Another reason why teaching kicks ass

Yes, this job can be as frustrating as all hell.  It takes patience and thick skin before you shift through all-that-does-not-matter and reach the big pay-offs that come with the job.

The small pay-offs are everywhere and they are those things having to do with “aha!” moments or those little comments about students appreciating your teaching.  One of the best comments I receive is “I learn something in this class.”  It is also one of the more scary comments to hear because it often follows “I don’t learn anything in my other classes.”  I’m not tooting my own horn by any means because it is not always the case.  Other nice comments are the “one of my favorite teacher” comments, the “you get it, Mr. Brown” phrase, and the terrific banter that I engage in with the students. 

An example of long-term pay off occurred Friday as I walked from a local Mexican restaurant to home.  I was calmly finishing my two mile walk, listening The Mike O’Meara Show podcast (Don and Mike fans rejoice), when a car suddenly screeched to a stop across the street from me and a man leapt out of the auto and ran towards me.  I was startled at first, and then realized that the man was actually a former student.  This particular student had graduated from a local college recently and was about to move to Portland (a very popular choice with Ukiah kids lately) to continue his career.  We chatted about my old class (he took my AP Comparative Government class), his passions, and mentioned some of the old students and how they were doing.  It was truly great to see him.

But the big pay-off wasn’t the visit.  That was a small part of it.  The pay-off was knowing that he was going to do just fine.  This was a kid that was very bright, yet gave off the vibe (as is not uncommon with a lot of North Coast teenagers) as a too ethereal to concentrate in the “real world.”  But back-in-the-day I was always getting irritated with these students because I saw so much potential that was going to be wasted on unreasonable passions.  That was many years ago.  I think part of my maturation as a teacher has included the realization that “potential” and “impact” as such a deeper meaning.  Most of those “slacker” students have a much better balance than those academically focused ones, and while it occasionally makes this teacher pull his hair out, it has allowed me to appreciate the gifts that they have shared with me in a different way.  It might be a song, a play, or the simple fact they have a wonderful soul.  To this day one of my highest achieving students that went Harvard could be classified as one of the greatest human beings on the planet, for no other reason than it was who she was.  The grades were low down on the list compared to the goodness of this woman’s soul.  And as a teacher I am surrounded by good people.  Good people that will grow to be great people that will do great things, most of which I will not be around to witness.  But occasionally one will drop by and share some of that goodness with me.  That occurred on Friday afternoon. 

I won’t lie.  I live vicariously through the lives of my students.  Facebook allows me to peek into their present tense and watch success and struggle.  One rare occasion I’ll shoot out a word of encouragement if the student is in a rough situation.  I’m more apt to shouting out kudos or hitting the “Like” button when those students succeed.  Because, in some little selfish way, I’ve succeeded. 

And I get to exhale a little bit.  Because they’re doing just fine.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Screw the new Pope. Google Reader is dying.

 

So Google has had a problem in that it overplayed its capital when trying to push through too much work.  Too many hands were working on too many projects and that’s just not efficient. 

Let’s get rid of some useless crap.

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Oh.

Now, let me say again that it is time to get rid of USELESS crap.  Google Reader is used by the media, teachers, students, professors, news hounds, and everyone that likes information organized in a logical, proficient manner.  It was the grand winner in the RSS market sweepstakes!  People love it!  Hell, Mashable stated that it was a huge part of the tech blog’s news gathering structure.  So why take it down?

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

In layman’s terms that means that Google Reader doesn’t poke, IM, retweet, tag in pictures, use snazzy templates for iPhone cameras, Skype, or show tits for only six seconds, and therefore it must go.  See, Reader is for those that are over the age of 21 and therefore it is irrelevant because those people are not Digital Natives, they are old-school dinosaurs.  Reading and processing information?  Psshhaaa!  That is so passé.  Everything you need is available in 140 characters or less on Twitter!  Who needs dialogue or insight or detail! 

But I digress.  I’m sure the reaction isn’t going to be that bad right?  I mean, who really uses Google Reader?

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  Ok so maybe the reaction is a little visceral.  I mean, we never really got that reaction when iGoogle went away.  But mistakes happen.  And I’m fairly sure that Audrey Watters has a Guy Fawkes mask hidden under her bed that she brings out to oppose all those big bad tech companies, right?  So she’s an exception. 

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So there goes the exception argument because Vicki Davis is the level-headed sage of the pedagogy community, and she wrote more capital letters in that post than I’ve seen in the years that I’ve followed her.  Nice job of Google successfully insulting all modes of intelligent thinkers.

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Ahhhh, right below that Pope dude.  Looks like the simple message by Google has definitely hit home with news junkies.

One would hope that Google will notice that a lot is wrong with ending Google Reader.  But one notices that Google has become Apple has become Microsoft, and that big tech is going to do what big tech does; assume that it is right all the time and that people will sheep there way along.  Open source is an opportunity and the potential for something to kick in over the next few months (July 1 is doomsday) is probably pretty high.  In the meantime this should be a message to all those schools that are so focused on Google Apps, and to those crazy teachers that want to become “Google Certified.”   In the end they are there for themselves and the profit.  Want to effect positive change in education, help out open source projects and prepare yourself for the inevitability of being ignored by the Googles of the world.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Molly is back strong in Ukiah

Ecstasy has made its cyclical return to Ukiah in the form of a “pure” brand called Molly.  Only this time it’s so much safer.  No, I mean it.  When I first asked my students about the information around Molly, those that supported the drug insisted that it was less dangerous because it was the pure form of ecstasy and therefore the only side effect was the slight withdrawal that one feels after coming down from the high. 

I would almost be laughable if it wasn’t a bit serious.  And this isn’t just a lax Ukiah drug thing.  There is a really good chance that Molly is hanging out in your community as I’m sensing that the drug culture that I thought was just local has spread more and more into other communities.  A relaxation of drug laws mixed with a major lack of parenting is really contributing to the next best thing to get you high.  The attitude around ecstasy is so casual that the sense of normalcy is astounding.  Almost as astounding as those parents who insist that their kids never partake in the chemically-induced euphoria.  Music festivals like Snowglobe, Burning Man, Coachella…yeah, everyone’s getting fairly lit there. 

And for those that are happy to dabble in the “pure” form of the drug I remind you that you are at the whim of whoever is selling it.  Of course it’s pure.  I mean, would a drug dealer ever lie to you? 

So be on the lookout for Molly.  She’s coming back with a vengeance.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Oh, I don’t know, my father might have kicked my ass if I did this.

It was the typical high school hockey game.

A Senior plays his last game for Senior night in the metropolis of Farmington, Minnesota. 

Four years of blood, sweat, and tears come down to a few final, crucial plays.

A Senior sheds one small tear at his decision he makes, unless that was a smirk and I saw it all wrong.

That same Senior then collects the puck and deposits it carefully in the back of his own net.

Then, as the horn sounds, he flips the bird to his own coaching staff, salutes the crowd, and leaves the ice.

Why did he do it you might ask?  Because the JV goalie was getting more minutes.

“They played this sophomore goalie for the starter………I would try and talk to the coaches about this and tell them I want playing time.

My hockey season is over. I did it for myself. (Like my status) if you think the coaches should quit:)”

That’s Austin Krause’s Facebook page. 

I don’t know, maybe I’m a little callous when it comes to the old way of enforcing the concept of team sports but I don’t know how this guy manages to walk around school without an entire hockey team showing their appreciation regarding his actions.  He degraded his city, his coaches, his team, cost them the game, and his Facebook post is all me, me, me.  Holy God is it sick.

It’s even worse when you read the article and so many parents are so into their kids playing time.  What in the hell has happened to the concept of team?  And when did a varsity sport become a breeding ground for mediocrity?  Correct me if I’m wrong but if a sophomore and a Senior have the exact same stats, you play the sophomore.  The Senior will get time, just not as much.  This is the competitive aspect of actual competitive sports.  All things being perfectly equal, you play the younger guy.  And since Austin really seems like a stand up guy, I’m not entirely sure all things were even equal.

I have a very simple rule regarding playing time.  I will never talk to parents about it.  Ever.  I’ll talk to them about what their son needs to do to get better.  But I will never discuss playing time.  At all.  By the way I got this policy from two very reputable sources and they have been dead right regarding the headaches it avoids.  Of course, it causes a couple as well.  Some parents will always tell me they understand, and then promptly describe to the world how absolutely unapproachable I am.  About playing time, I am unapproachable.

And some of those hockey parents need to find a hobby.  And one in particular needs to find a hobby around disciplining their son.